Friday, September 12, 2014

In Search of Tad(d) Dameron by Ian MacDonald

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“... Dameron is a much underrated performer who stands at the fulcrum of modern Jazz, midway between Swing and Bebop. Combining the broad-brush arrangements of the big band and the advanced harmonic language of bop, his own recordings are difficult to date blind. The title of one of his most renown tunes - On A Misty Night - catches the sense of evanescence which seems to surround both the man and the music.”
Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.  

At the time [1948] that Miles began spending more time at Gil's basement apartment, the New York scene was vibrant but also in another state of upheaval. Big bands were bailing out, and the 52nd Street clubs were closing one by one or converting to strip joints. Yet New York's jazz world, drastically shrunk now in its venues, was still innovating. The seeds of a post-bop direction were already in evidence, not just among Evans and his friends. Arranger/composer/pianist Tadd Dameron, who had written for Gillespie's big band, was fronting a medium-sized combo; his current music had a light, fluid approach that veered off from the more frenetic side of bop.6 Dameron's music and working groups provided an alternative to Miles Davis's work with Charlie Parker in the late 1940s and had a formative impact on Davis’ evolving style.”
- Stephanie Stein Crease, Gil Evans, Out of the Cool: His Life and Music [pp. 154-55]

“‘I taught Tadd, you know,’ recalled Dizzy. ‘You can tell that his writing was very much influenced by my harmony, by what I had worked out on the piano by myself.’”
- Dizzy Gillespie to Alyn Shipton, Groovin’ High, The Life of Dizzy Gillespie [p. 163]

While doing research of the music of Tadd Dameron, mainly to increase my own knowledge of it and to enjoy listening to more of it in the process [blog master’s perquisite?], I came across this information about Ian MacDonald’s own search for information about Tadd that resulted in his self-published book on the subject: Ian McDonald, author of TADD: The Life and Legacy of Tadley Ewing Dameron.

I have yet to obtain a copy of Ian McDonald’s TADD: The Life and Legacy of Tadley Ewing Dameron, but while I continue the search, I thought you might find this article about Ian’s Tadd-quest of interest. It was published online by the Jazz Institute of Chicago.

Below Ian’s overview of his book,you will find the review of it that Don Rose posted to the Jazz Institute of Chicago’s website.

We are planning to add future features on Tadd’s music by Max Harrison and Dan Morgenstern.

© -  Ian McDonald and Don Rose, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

In Search of Tad(d) Dameron by Ian MacDonald

“The following material is based on the author's research into Dameron's life and music, which culminated in the recent publication of Tadd—the life and legacy of Tadley Ewing Dameron….

In October [2003], a compilation CD titled "The Lost Sessions" will hit the stores which will include previously unreleased material from the Blue Note vaults. Featured will be various bands led by Charlie Rouse, Ike Quebec, Duke Pearson and...Tadd Dameron.

The Dameron session dates from December 1961, a few months after his release from the Lexington Federal Narcotics Hospital and four years before his death. It will provide the only available record of his piano playing since the 1956 "Mating Call" session with John Coltrane. The band features Donald Byrd, Curtis Fuller, Julius Watkins, Sam Rivers, Cecil Payne, Tadd, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones. It was produced by Michael Cuscuna and it includes material originally listed as "rejected." 

A couple of years back, when I was researching my biography of Dameron, I asked Cuscuna about this unreleased session. He said that, "The ensembles were a mess. There had been trouble with the copyist." He added that he hoped "to revisit the tapes at some stage to see if they could be released—for historic importance."

Happily, that has now happened, although Cuscuna stresses that the issue will include a caveat about the flaws. This is not likely to bother true Dameron followers, who will be keen to know if Dameron's piano playing changed during his three year stay in Lexington, where he not only led the "house band' but also practised piano most days. [See George Ziskind's essay about the post-Lexington Tadd Dameron.]

Until now, only a few people have heard the post Lexington piano of Dameron. A few lucky souls heard a tape of his solos made privately for Chris Albertson, in December 1961, which went missing after being loaned to Lil Harding. Another private tape that year, made at Ray Bryant's apartment, was stolen.

In 1947, a numerologist had advised Tadd, "To be lucky, you need to add an extra letter to your name." Thus Tad become Tadd. He must have wondered about the wisdom of that change. His run of bad fortune continued in early 1962 when master tapes from a studio session featuring Dameron directing a band led by Milt Jackson and Kenny Dorham were destroyed in a fire.

The "Lost Sessions" from Blue Note will include Dameron tunes Aloof Spoof, The Elder Speaks, Bevan Beeps and Lament For The Living. The first two have not been recorded, but Beeps and Lament were recorded by Chet Baker.

Many Dameron stories have entered into jazz folklore—an Oberlin pre-med doctor story; a Sir Thomas Beecham connection; I Love Lucy theme rumors; Dimitri Tiomkin and the Love Theme from the film Giant; a Mexican ballet; and more. As I researched my book, I naturally sought the truth.

Interviews with people who knew Tadd going back to the 1930s (including someone who saw Tadd make his public debut playing Stardust with the Snake White band in 1936), research at the Oberlin alumni archives, talks with Beecham's road manager, and with Tadd's widow Mia, brought us most of the answers. You'll have to read the book. For now—the Mexican ballet story is untrue.

I wanted to build up as complete a picture as possible of Dameron's compositions and recorded output. I started with a core of about 100 known Dameron tunes and was greatly aided by Dameron buffs such as Andrew Homzy, Brooks Kerr, Bob Sunenblick and Don Sickler in finding more. The tune and song list is now at 190, with the probability of more to come. Along the way I found Sermon On The Mount, a nine part religious suite written by Tadd, Irving Reid and Ira Kosloff (co-writer of Elvis Presley's early hit I Want You I Need You I Love You).
Some of the songs were collaborations with Carl Sigman, Irving Reid, Bernie Hanighen, Maely Daniele, Shirley Jones, Jack Reynolds, Charles White, Albert Carlo, Darwin Jones, Ira Kosloff, and Ann Greer. Boxes of manuscripts, some without chord symbols, are still to be sorted and catalogued. Many of these are likely to be Dameron compositions.

Putting together a Dameron discography proved a lot easier, which ran to almost 300 recordings as player, arranger or conductor. Many have been issued under Tadd's leadership, but others sessions were under the names of Harlan Leonard, Jimmy Lunceford, Sabby Lewis, Billy Eckstine, Georgie Auld, Buddy Rich, Sarah Vaughan, Dickie Wells, Earle Warren, Dizzy Gillespie, Don Redman, Illinois Jacquet, Louie Bellson, Pearl Bailey, Babs Gonzales, Fats Navarro, Dexter Gordon Coleman Hawkins, Anita O'Day, Kay Penton, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Woody Herman, Artie Shaw, Miles Davis, Tony Proteau, Ted Heath, Bull Moose Jackson, Billy Paul, Clifford Brown, John Coltrane, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Carmen McRae, Blue Mitchell, Milt Jackson, Sonny Stitt and Chet Baker.
Scores in Tadd's hand were unearthed for Duke Ellington, Boyd Raeburn and Stan Kenton, none of which was ever recorded. Tadd collaborated early on with Billy Strayhorn—they regularly compared notes and ideas at the home of Billy Taylor—but apparently they did not write anything down. Scores written for Gil Evans exist but are missing. Detailed searches by Bob Sunenblick and Gil's son, Miles, have failed so far to unearth them.

I listened to many Dameron tribute albums. Not just the well known material by the Philly Joe Jones Dameronia repertory band, but also albums by Slide Hampton, Jimmy Heath, Muriel Winston, Barry Harris, the Japanese big band The Blue Coats, Per Husby, Andy LaVerne, Warren Rand, Dave Cliff and Geoff Simkins. This led me to the beautiful voices of Dameron admirers Vanessa Rubin and Jeri Brown.

I found professionally-recorded versions of Dameron tunes for which I possessed sheet music or lead sheets, but had never heard. These included I'm Never Happy Anymore (three different versions), Lovely One In The Window, Love Took The 7.10 Tonight, Never Been In Love, Take A Chance On Spring, That's The Way It Goes and Weekend.

I owned two versions of Dizzy Gillespie's band playing A Study In Soulphony In Three Hearts but also unearthed a piano solo based on one portion of the longer orchestral piece. Pianist Clifton Smalls told me that Tadd had given him a copy of that piece. He said that Tadd was writing a whole stage act for singer Brook Benton, much in the style of his stage act writing for the 1953 Atlantic City Harlem Revue.

Research into the 1953 Atlantic City period unearthed an agonizing "might have been." I located a tape of Tadd's band which included Clifford Brown which was made privately by cab driver, and occasional baritone saxist, Kellice Swaggerty. He sometimes sat in with the band and taped not just the jazz proceedings, but the whole revue—comics, dancers, singers et al.

Unfortunately Swaggerty's tape machine sounds as if it was placed too near to a bandstand air-conditioning unit. The sound is so distorted that it is unlikely that this could ever be packaged for a wider audience—not even for historical purposes

The search for more tunes and missing tapes goes on. In the meantime Dameron fans have those 1961-vintage "Lost Sessions" to look forward to.

[Ian MacDonald, a journalist and editor for 35 years, is the secretary of the Sheffield (U.K.) Jazz Society and author of Tadd—the life and legacy of Tadley Ewing Dameron. It includes a foreword by Benny Golson and is published by Jahbero Press (ISBN 0 9533778 0 6) and distributed by Cadence (North America), Norbert Ruecker (Germany) and Cadillac Jazz Distribution (UK). For more information, email or write Jahbero Press, 38 Wadbrough Road, Sheffield S11 8RG, England. Copies of photos of Dameron may be obtained directly from Val Wilmer at 10 Snyder Road, London N16 7UG. Send a SASE for details.]

[Caution: the above contact information dates back to 2003 when this piece was published by the Jazz Institute of Chicago and it may no longer be accurate or active as of this posting].

Reviewed by Don Rose for The Jazz Institute of Chicago

“Tadd Dameron, born in 1917, seamlessly bridged the crucial musical years from swing to bebop. He wrote and arranged for late-1930s bands such as Lucky Millinder, Andy Kirk and Vido Musso before he was 20, jammed with his fellow musical "outlaw" Charlie Parker in Kansas City in 1939 and went on to become an indispensable—though undersung—part of the modern music scene of the '40s through the early '60s.

His compositions "Hot House" and "Good Bait" were heralds of the bebop era. The latter was first introduced by a Dizzy Gillespie small band at one of the first bop-age recording sessions, though the Basie band played it occasionally as many as three years earlier. The former, an unusual ABCA riff on "What is This Thing Called Love," was part of the first Gillespie-Parker small band session that essentially launched the era.

He first recorded another of his masterpieces, "Lady Bird," in 1948 with a remarkable group that included Fats Navarro on trumpet and Wardell Gray and Allen Eager on tenors. It became an instant classic—Miles Davis wrote the counter-melody "Half Nelson" for a recording session that included Parker on tenor—and we're still hearing the lovely tune today, though it actually dates from 1939!

The Cleveland-born composer-arranger-pianist led the band that backed Sarah Vaughan's landmark recording sessions of 1946 and wrote one of the great hits from that session, "If You Could See Me Now." (He adapted a Gillespie coda to create the line.) Two years later the Gillespie big band introduced Dameron's "A Study in Soulphony," the first extended composition of the bop era—but sadly no studio performance was ever released. Most of that year, however, Dameron led what was essentially the house band at the legendary Royal Roost in New York, frequently with Navarro, sometimes with Davis.

He recorded with Navarro for Savoy and Blue Note— almost every side a classic—mentoring the brilliant horn man along the way. (Dameron, like Thelonius Monk, was an excellent teacher, even to the extent of helping horn players improve their tone. Another mentee was Clifford Brown.) Eight years later, Dameron recorded his most impressive extended work, "Fontainebleau," which remains one of the epic jazz compositions. The same year, 1956, he accompanied an emerging tenorman named John Coltrane on an album of Dameron originals.

Like so many of his compadres, Dameron was also hooked on heroin and, two years after the Coltrane date, served three years in the federal narcotics prison at Lexington, Ky. He emerged to find a rapidly and radically changing musical scene in 1961. But he went right back to work playing, composing and recording until his death from cancer in 1965, leaving behind a repertoire of close to 200 songs, including many ballads that have been set to words—even an amazingly popular commercial jingle "Get Wildroot Cream Oil Charlie." (Some of his other well known tunes, done for Gillespie's big band as well as his own groups, include "Cool Breeze," "Gnid," "Our Delight," "The Tadd Walk" and "On a Misty Night.")

This is just the quickest sketch of the life and achievements of this extraordinary musician — one who should be ranked right up there, just behind Ellington, Monk and Mingus as a composer — but who still remains an undersung hero even though several tribute bands exist and testimonial albums have been issued.

Author MacDonald set about accumulating the facts of Dameron's life, mainly through clippings, discographical material and interviews with dozens of the admiring musicians who knew and worked with Dameron. This self-published biography (the publishing house name is another Dameron tune) is a great tribute to its subject and reveals a trove of forgotten or ignored facts. It also includes several discographical appendices, which are interesting and useful, albeit a bit confusingly organized and lacking in detail.

This work is far from fine biography and almost devoid of musical analysis—rather, it's a fan's appreciation, richly and extensively quoting scores of players who knew or worked with its subject. As such it can't compare with works such as Lewis Porter's exemplary bio of Coltrane and works of that caliber, but it's serious in its effort to tell a story that well deserves telling. Dameron fans and relative newcomers alike will be enriched.”

The following video montage features Dameronia under the direction of Don Sickler performing If You Could See Me Now with Charlie Rouse doing the honors on tenor saxophone. It was performed at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, NYC in August, 1988 and, to my knowledge, it has not been released as a commercial recording.

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